Kansas at 428 COVID-19 cases today

Kansas counties 428 cases on Tuesday, according to the KDHE. (KDHE chart)
The UG’s COVID-19 website reported 89 positive COVID-19 cases at 4:45 p.m. Tuesday. (UG COVID-19 website)

Governor announces order to allow residents to draw down on federal unemployment resources

Gov. Laura Kelly today announced an executive order to allow Kansans to draw down on new federal resources for unemployment insurance. Unemployment claims statewide jumped from 1,800 per week to around 60,000 on Sunday.

Kansas reported 428 COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, an increase of 60 cases from the 368 positive cases reported in the state on Monday.

One more COVID-19 death was reported in the state, bringing the state total to nine. Thirty-nine counties now have at least one positive case, Gov. Kelly said in a news teleconference today.

Wyandotte County reported 75 total cases as of 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, while the state reported 79 Wyandotte County cases a little later on Tuesday. There have been four COVID-19 related deaths in Wyandotte County.

Later today, at 4:45 p.m., the UG COVID-19 website reported 89 positive cases in Wyandotte County.

Johnson County reported 134 cases on Tuesday, according to KDHE figures this morning. Johnson County now has three COVID-19 deaths, according to its website.

Gov. Kelly addressed economic effects of the pandemic at the news conference. There are widespread layoffs throughout the state accompanying stay-at-home orders.

“The Kansas Department of Labor is experiencing an unprecedented influx of calls from Kansas workers who need to file for unemployment benefits,” Gov. Kelly said.

“Please remember that virtually overnight, the customer service representatives went from a historically low unemployment period, which had lasted for well over a year, to the highest call volumes we have ever seen, higher even than the height of the great recession,” she said.

The state unemployment phone lines have been swamped, and officials are asking people to use the website, www.getkansasbenefits.gov/, if possible. Filing online is the quickest way to get benefits, she said.

The KDOL is receiving more than 230,000 calls every day, she said. “That is like every resident of Topeka Lawrence and Emporia calling every day,” she added.

“Just yesterday, they received over 877,000 calls,” she said. “This isn’t just a spike in numbers, it’s unprecedented.”

Gov. Kelly said the state has doubled its capacity at its call centers, employees are working expanded hours, and they are adding phone lines. Also, they are moving employees from other agencies to help in this effort, she said.

She asked people to be patient with the large call volumes. It will take some time to provide additional capacity, she said. For those who do call instead of visiting the website, she urged them to be patient and wait and not hang up.

“Taking applications is just the first step,” she said. “We also need to ensure that every roadblock is removed so we make things as seamless as possible for our businesses and those seeking unemployment benefits. This really is no time for bureaucratic red tape.”

The federal stimulus legislation will provide $600 more in benefits a week, more than doubling what they would have received. It also makes more residents eligible for unemployment, including gig workers and small business owners, she said.

Gov. Kelly’s executive order will waive some requirements in state law that could delay residents from immediately getting unemployment benefits, according to the governor.

The waiting week requirement for benefits is temporarily waived under the governor’s order; and the requirement that all those receiving unemployment benefits actively seek work each week is temporarily waived, according to the executive order.

The order also says all employers are required to provide notification of the potential availability of unemployment insurance benefits to employees at the time of separating from employment.

Gov. Kelly said all Kansans with internet access should file online at www.getkansasbenefits.gov/. If they must call in, she asked for patience for customer service representatives.

“This is an incredibly stressful time for everyone, including them,” she said. “Now more than ever, we must be kind, we must support one another, and as I have said before, and I’ll say it again, together, we’ll get through this.”

In answer to a question, the governor said they are answering questions about essential functions on the governor’s website, and are posting questions-and-answers that are updated frequently at https://governor.kansas.gov/keff/. The governor’s stay-home order superseded all the local city and county orders.

Gov. Kelly said they would be clarifying the church exemption in the stay-at-home order. The order stated that church services are permitted but must follow social distancing provisions including a six-foot distance between individuals. The order also prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people.

She also said she believes most people are following the social distancing guidelines when they are out walking and exercising.

‘Staggering’ unemployment numbers

In a question-and-answer session today on Facebook, U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, D-3rd Dist., and Kansas Labor Secretary Delia Garcia discussed what the KDOL is doing to address unemployment.

Rep. Davids supported the expansion of unemployment benefits in the federal relief package.

Garcia urged workers and employers to use the website, www.getkansasbenefits.gov/.

She said KDOL has a spreadsheet that employers can use to file online at the website. It allows the employers to submit one spreadsheet for all employees, she said.

Also, there is a shared work program allowing employers to avoid layoffs while reducing hours, and providing partial benefits, she said. This form also is online at www.getkansasbenefits.gov/.

Rep. Davids said a lot of furloughed or laid off workers have called her office, wondering if they are eligible.

“Right now, anybody being impacted by COVID-19 is eligible,” Garcia said.

The KDOL will follow up and let the applicant know if he or she qualifies for unemployment, she said. The requirements are very flexible now.

Garcia added that the KDOL phone number is being reserved for those who do not have the internet, for non-English speakers, military service members or those who moved to Kansas in the last 18 months.

She said she understands that this may be the first time some people have been laid off, and they do not have experience in navigating the system.

On Monday alone, there were 877,103 calls, she said.

“One individual called 714 times,” Garcia added. She said she was begging people to be patient with the staff, as they are doing everything they can with the resources they have.

The KDOL has been doing Facebook Live almost every day and a virtual town hall media session every week, she said. There is a frequently-asked-questions section on the website that may answer some questions, also.

Garcia noted that the KDOL is federally funded, and the number of employees there was tied to the unemployment rate here. Kansas had its lowest unemployment rate in 40 years, so there were not many customer service representatives on staff a few weeks ago, she noted. Overnight unemployment went from low to high, and there wasn’t time to train staff members for the normal six-month training period, she said.

Garcia said she doubled the staff last week. Many state employees were working from home for social distancing. Some retirees and former employees were called back to help in the call center, she said.

Garcia said that the new federal stimulus legislation allows help for small business owners and the self-employed. Garcia said they will not have guidance from the federal Department of Labor until later this week for small business owners. She said they expect to update this information on Monday.

Garcia said for the week ending March 21, the KDOL had 23,925 unemployed initial claims. For the week ending March 28, that increased to 55,428, she said.

Those numbers were “unbelievable,” she said.

“It doesn’t compare to the great recession,” she said.

“We will get through this,” she said. “This is the most important time to take care of each other and we will do that.”

“The numbers you just mentioned are staggering,” Rep. Davids said. “There’s so many people who are hurting right now. A lot of people, too, who have spent so much time taking care of us.”

Doctors emphasize good hygiene, staying home to stop spread of COVID-19

Doctors at the University of Kansas Health System on Tuesday continued to emphasize the importance of good hygiene. They spoke at a news teleconference.

Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health System, recommended that people stay home, keep a distance of six feet away from each other, wash their hands and not touch their faces.

Dr. Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention and control at the University of Kansas Health System, said if people will wash their hands, especially if they are in public, and not touch their faces, their risk will go down.

Dr. Stites said there is more evidence that perhaps social distancing is working. He cited a report that a company that makes thermometers, with online reports, are seeing less temperature spikes in the United States, especially in areas with social distancing.

Dr. Rick Couldry, vice president of ancillary services at the University of Kansas Health System, said the hospital established COVID-19 testing at the hospital lab about a week and a half ago. It allowed the hospital to have a more rapid turnaround time.

The hospital has been doing 158 in-house tests a day, and this week, it will add another 250 tests a day by adding additional equipment to the lab, he said. Some tests may only take 2 to3 hours, he said.

Local business leaders in the Kansas City area worked hard and brought additional testing equipment to the hospital, he said.

“U.S. Engineering built stainless steel tables to put this customized equipment on in four days,” Couldry said. “NorthPoint helped logistically to get the engineers here to set it up, with a private charter plane.”

He said he hopes in a week or week and a half to have a significant increase in capacity. The manufacturer says it can do as many as 2,000 tests a day, he said, but at the present, they are not certain of the number of tests they can do here.

Couldry noted that the health system had only 1,000 of the long medical swabs on hand that are used in the test.

“Without the swabs, we are very limited in testing,” he said.

Dr. Stites said the lack of community-wide testing means they don’t have a good idea of how much COVID-19 is in the community.

There were about 25 positive COVID-19 patients at KU Hospital, with about 10 on ventilators, and also about 25 patients who are currently being tested for COVID-19, according to hospital officials. They are on a separate unit for COVID-19 patients only.

“The key for us will be what happens in the next week,” Dr. Stites said.

Social distancing started last Tuesday in Wyandotte County and the Kansas City area, and in the next week, they will know how well it’s working in Kansas City, he said.

Some models show that the Kansas City area will be fine with the number of intensive care unit beds they have, while others show they will exceed their capacity, he said. He said they are working to prepare for both of those situations.

While he said they didn’t know yet how well it’s working, there is some cell phone data that measures how close cell phone signals are to each other, he said.

There has been about 40 to 50 decrease in proximity in Johnson County, while Wyandotte County and Jackson County have had a 35 to 40 percent decrease in proximity, he said.

The goal is 50 percent, or even 70 percent decrease in proximity, he said. That will bring down the spread of the disease.

To view Gov. Laura Kelly’s news conference, visit https://www.facebook.com/GovLauraKelly/videos/210912297003625/.

To view the question-and-answer session with Rep. Davids and Secretary Garcia, visit https://www.facebook.com/RepDavids/videos/267067867622160/?v=267067867622160.

To view the KU Health Systems doctors’ news conference, visit https://www.facebook.com/kuhospital/videos/2616990341959599/.

The Kansas COVID-19 website is at

The UG’s COVID-19 response website is at

COVID-19 information from the CDC is at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html.